🔗NPS Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow: The Fallout of Fallout: Cold War Casualties in the Rural West
American Conservation Experience
This Fellowship is placed with Great Basin National Heritage Area (GBNHA) and Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area (MPNHA) in partnership with the NPS Intermountain Regional Office’s National Heritage Areas Program.
GBNHA and MPNHA are seeking one postdoctoral Fellow to research, document, contextualize, and interpret the first-hand experiences of area residents who lived through a decade (1951-1962) of above-ground nuclear tests that blanketed the region in radioactive fallout. The project gives voice to communities impacted by this first phase of the Cold War through recording and sharing oral histories while also analyzing what influence these events still have on the region decades later. By placing these events in the context of American history, the Fellow’s scholarship will enable the heritage areas (as well as many National Park Service units) to appropriately and accurately interpret the region’s significance in an essential chapter of our history.
Between January 27, 1951, and July 17, 1962, one hundred atmospheric tests of nuclear devices were conducted at the Nevada Test Site. Radiation clouds from the bombs repeatedly blanketed the region north and east of the test site, causing both short and long-term effects on the communities of rural Nevada and Utah. Together, GBNHA and MPNHA encompass 30,000 square miles of the fallout region. The Fellow will research and record numerous first-hand accounts from the testing era to paint a vivid picture of life in the fallout zone. The Fellow will also study the long-term impacts at a community and regional level through the lens of National Heritage Areas as places where landscape and history are inextricably linked. This is not an epidemiological study (the correlation between radiation exposure and increased cancers has been established), nor is it policy-oriented (a compensation program for victims has been in place since 1990). Instead, our goal is to preserve and share with the public numerous individual histories and establish overarching themes so that the experiences of this remote region can be understood in the context of American history and the Cold War and how the legacy is passed on to future generations.
Each NPS Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow will complete work in four areas. Fellows will (1) perform project-based research, (2) share research results, (3) produce and substantially contribute to interpretive and educational products, and (4) pursue career-focused work.
1) Project-Based Research: The story of Downwinders is not untold but under-told. Studies have been more epidemiological, and oral history archives are limited (50 stories total at the University of Utah). The National Park Service has yet to research and synthesize how the repeated exposure to radioactive fallout impacted rural and tribal communities in the Intermountain West. No study (NPS or otherwise) has placed Downwinders in the context of an NHA. This new scholarship will enable appropriate interpretation of the period and place it in the greater context of American history.
During year one, the Fellow will conduct original research on this topic, drawing on their expertise and the insights of heritage area staff and board members, NPS staff, and outside mentors. A critical element of the research agenda will be conducting oral history interviews from across both NHAs to establish an archive that reflects the variety of experiences and diversity of individuals impacted by the fallout, from tribal members to students and teachers to ranchers, miners, and sheepherders to government employees and health workers. In year two, as needed, the Fellow will consult with their mentorship team and other subject matter experts to propose a project for their second year.
2) Sharing Research Results: The Fellow will collaborate with their support team to share the results of their applied research with their hosts, cohort, Fellowship project team, the larger community of NHA and NPS staff and partners, and visitors and community partners. This research will be shared on various platforms, including webinars, educational and interpretive content on NPS.gov, and in-person sessions within National Heritage Areas and at the 60+ NHA network national conferences. The Fellow will also liaise with other public history and humanities organizations.
The Fellow will be expected to develop and sustain connections with program-provided mentors and host staff, associated NPS staff, members of their Fellowship cohort, and other Fellows across the program’s tenure. In addition to being provided mentorship and support, the Fellow will have the opportunity to mentor others and enrich staff knowledge by organizing events such as virtual speaker series and presentations. Twice a year, the Fellow will participate with their cohort and other Fellows in a virtual conference for NPS staff and partners to provide updates about their research. The Fellow will be responsible for tracking and reporting accomplishments and supplying copies of interpretive, educational, and research products to their host and the National Coordinator.
3) Interpretive and Educational Products: The Fellow will work with their mentors and support team to identify feasible interpretive and educational products informed by their research. Examples of potential interpretive and educational products developed for this Fellowship opportunity could include an oral history archive incorporated into a web-based StoryMap format that links each story to a specific location, a training module to be shared with NPS interpreters and local museum and historic site docents to elevate their understanding of the topic; curriculum developed to communicate with area schools and placed on NPS.gov’s Teaching with Historic Places; a traveling exhibit that can rotate through local museums, historic sites, and visitor centers; video kiosks with highlights from interviews placed at partner sites; and advising on an episode of MPNHA’s Discovery Road television series. Ensuring that these products are historically accurate and reach as broad an audience as possible will be a priority of the Fellowship.
4) Career-focused Research and Products: In consultation with their mentors, the Fellow will carry out a career-centered project. About 20 percent of the Fellowship will be dedicated to this scholarly work that advances the Fellow’s career path. The Fellow will be supported by a multidisciplinary team including NPS staff, National Heritage Area directors, academic faculty, and local (native and non-native) community leaders and cultural experts.
Essential Responsibilities and Tasks:
- Conduct original research into the Downwinders Era and its long-term impacts in Great Basin and Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Areas, particularly on themes and topics that reflect on the perspectives of groups historically underrepresented in the academic literature and public storytelling by the NPS; synthesize existing research to share with NPS and NHAs, partner sites, and general through in-person and virtual meetings and on multiple digital platforms.
- Conduct numerous oral history interviews to record the breadth of experiences born of the fallout events; identify patterns and themes revealed by the discussions and determine community-level impacts; contextualize the events and experiences as they relate to American history and the Cold War from multiple perspectives.
- Research existing archives and sources for accounts specific to the research area that have already been recorded or described; prepare an annotated bibliography of these resources.
- Develop interpretative frameworks to share research.
- Assist with coordinating virtual programs to share research findings from this and other Mellon Humanities Fellowships with NPS staff, partner sites, and the public.
- Host programs (virtual and/or in-person) for educators about research and help students learn how to research and document stories in their communities using innovative approaches, such as Youth Participatory Action Research. Host similar training events through local museums and historic sites for community members interested in recording/collecting oral histories.